SURFSIDE, FLA. (WSVN) - A Miami-Dade Fire Rescue official and two survivors have provided stunning new details about the partial condo building collapse in Surfside.
MDFR Battalion Chief Mark Chavers was the first rescuer to arrive at Champlain Towers South, early Thursday morning.
Speaking with 7News on Tuesday, he said he knew right away that time was of the essence.
“We knew this was the big one,” he said. “Live people, buried in the rubble.”
Audio from rescuers captured the tension of those moments.
“We’ve got people trapped,” said a first responder.
“It almost resembles the [World] Trade Center,” Chavers is heard saying.
Resident Sara Nir said she initially thought the noise she heard was construction work.
“Oh, they’re probably doing some renovation, and then, suddenly, around 1:10, I hear like a smash. The wall is collapsing, the wall above me,” she said, “and I was running to see where the sound comes from, and I saw all the garage collapsed. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I’m in a movie.”
Chavers said he was aware of the dangers to stepping into the unstable structure.
“The building’s in danger of another collapse,” said a first responder.
“Work fast, work fast, work fast,” said Chavers.
Chavers describes what it was like for those who got there moments after the collapse, as they tried to save people while giant pieces of debris continued to rain down.
“They’re falling. At the same time they are on the pile, they are falling, and they’re hitting, they’re shaking the pile,” he said.
Also at the scene was MDFR Fire Chief Alan Cominsky.
“Just when we first arrived, what we saw was the horrific catastrophic type of collapse,” he said.
Meanwhile, video captured rescuers as they used flashlights to search units in the portion of the building that did not crumble to the ground.
“They didn’t stop until they got those people that they could see,” said Chavers.
Among those pulled from the rubble on Thursday were 15-year-old Jonah Handler, Stacey Fang.
Fang, 54, was taken to the hospital where she later died.
Her son was also hospitalized but has since been released and continues to recover.
Several others were also saved.
“About 20 to 25 people hanging off the balcony, all the way up the building,” said Chavers.
Survivor Steve Rosenthal said he lost everything except his life.
“All I saw was cement, rubber, wood, people yelling, ‘Help me! Get me out! Help me!”‘ he said. “I ran to the balcony and was praying that the building didn’t fall on me, collapse on me.”
Rosenthal was not injured. Like dozens of his neighbors, he was taken down to safety.
“As a human being, that’s what you do,” said Chavers.
Nir said she and her children ran out of the building in the nick of time.
“I told my kids, ‘Run as fast as you can,’ crossing the street. We crossed Collins [Avenue]. We just crossed Collins. God was waiting for us to leave the building, and then [there] was another big boom, and then we didn’t see anything. It was suddenly quiet after the big boom, and it was white clouds all over.”
“Everybody here,” said Chavers, “everybody working this scene will have this call in their brains until the day that they die. They will have this in their brains forever.”
But even through the elements and the sadness, these first responders keep going.
“The hope is there, even if it’s just one more,” said Chavers.
Despite rain and lightning at the collapse site on Tuesday, first responders continued search-and-rescue efforts.
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